David Geffen has made no secret he covets the Los Angeles Times and thinkshe can help it.That was true last year when the entertainment mogul dangled $2billion but failed to budge Tribune Co. from its stance the paper wasn't forsale.
It was true as Tribune sought bidders for the whole company.
It remains true now that Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell has beencrowned the winner of the Tribune strategic sweepstakes.
So want to guess a likely topic Friday night, when, according to a source,they're expected to see each other in Southern California? You know, besides"American Idol" and the newest frozen yogurt stand to open in Malibu, wherethey both have homes.
"I remain interested in either buying or joint-venturing the L.A. Times,"Geffen told me this week.
When I asked Zell the other day if he would consider a partnership withGeffen, he said he simply didn't know him well enough to answer.
They once dined together, Zell said. "But that's not enough to have anopinion, other than that he's a delightful character."
True enough, they have only broken bread once to date. They have, however,talked at various junctures during Zell's pursuit of a deal for Tribune,sources close to both men said.
That said, there is a difference between talking and having talks.
Zell hasn't officially joined Tribune's board yet, let alone become itschairman, two big steps that presume his plan to take Tribune private with anemployee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, passes regulatory muster and no onetakes up the $25 million breakup fee dare and offers a sweeter deal.
The notion of Zell working out some sort of arrangement with Geffen, inwhich Geffen kicks in some money to pay down the debt of Zell's deal for somesort of joint-venture on the Times that skirts the tax bill of an outrightsale, isn't inconceivable.
Tribune, this paper's parent, has seen the Times, its largest newspaper, asa vital component to its Internet strategy, to say nothing of thestill-hoped-for synergy with its Los Angeles TV station and the paper's impacton the company's bottom line.
But if, say, the FCC were to put the screws to the company oncross-ownership rules that restrict having a paper and broadcast outlet in onemarket, there might be a choice to make.
Still, the two billionaires are an odd couple. Zell has said this is aprofit-driven deal. Geffen has said he would settle for lower margins so hecould put more money into the product.
Zell told me he isn't ready to say what the role of the L.A. Times will bein the overall scheme of Tribune Co.
"We're in the early stages of mapping out an opinion, then I think we'regoing to run it up against everybody and see how our thinking and theirthinking are similar," Zell said. "I'm not in any way ducking your question,but it's [early]. We're working hard to formulate our thinking and we'relearning a lot."
Frankly, so is everybody who is trying to understand this deal and where itwill take Tribune.
JERRY-RIGGED: Former Chicago TV exec Joel Cheatwood has left CNN HeadlineNews to become vice president of development for Fox News, where he willnurture shows for Fox News Channel and the soon-to-be launched Fox BusinessChannel.
Cheatwood cultivated Headline News' shows for Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace."Joel has a strong reputation in the industry for his good ideas and theability to execute them," Fox News CEO Roger Ailes said in a statement.
In Chicago, Cheatwood has a strong reputation, too. He was WMAQ-Ch. 5'svice president of news and promotion when Jerry Springer was hired as acommentator and star anchors Carol Marin and Ron Magers resigned.
A SPIRITUAL TAKE: Chicago's Roland Martin, the WVON-AM 1690 weekdaypersonality CNN signed last month as a contributor, will host an hour-long 7p.m. Good Friday special for the cable outlet examining contemporarychallenges through a distinct prism, "What Would Jesus Really Do?"
EYE, EYE: The Chicago Tribune's RedEye got dotted by a federal judge, whoruled this week that News Corp.'s Fox News Channel can keep calling itsirreverent late-night news and comment show "Red Eye."
"The only similarities between the products are the fact that both involvea media used to deliver news," U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo ruled thisweek, shooting down the paper's request to block Fox News' use of the namepending their Aug. 6 trial.